Mistakes Were Made: The Arrogance and Fun of Admitting You’re Wrong

“As smug and self-righteous as people can be when they’re loudly insisting that they’re right, it does not even come close to the smug self-righteousness of people who are loudly pointing out that they’re big enough to admit their mistakes.”

I’m quoting myself here.

See, I get a little tired of hearing skeptics, science-lovers, and atheists get accused of being arrogant, completely convinced that we’re right about everything, and unwilling to either say “I was wrong” or “I don’t know.”

I mean, of course we can be arrogant and stubborn, what with us being human beings and all. But in my experience, skeptics and science-lovers and atheists, while we can be very certain that we’re right, are also as a rule very willing to admit it when we’re wrong. (That’s exactly how science works, after all — it’s a self-correcting system that works by people acknowledging that they’re wrong and changing their mind when the evidence becomes sufficiently convincing.)

And I think there’s a substantial and functional difference between the arrogance of saying, “I really think I’m right about this — but if I’m wrong, then by all means convince me”… and the arrogance of saying, “Nothing you could say or do, nothing I could possibly see or experience, could ever shake my faith.”

In fact, not only do skeptics and science-lovers and atheists admit it when we’re wrong — we’ll do it proudly. Like the guy Richards Dawkins is always poncing on about, the college professor who publicly shook the hand of the person who proved one of his pet theories wrong and said, “My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years.” Skeptics and science-lovers and atheists will not only admit that we’re wrong and that we don’t know everything — we’ll do so happily. Proudly. Even smugly and arrogantly We’d take out full-page ads in the New York Times if we could afford it.

By Jove, nobody admits that they’re not always right and that they don’t know everything better than we do!

So I’m going to do an unbelievably smug, arrogant, self-aggrandizing thing here — and take you on a tour of some of the places in this blog, either in the posts or the comments, where I’ve done one of the following:

1. admitted that I was wrong and changed my mind;
2. called attention to mistakes I’ve made in the recent past;
3. pointed out a subject on which I recently changed or was currently changing my mind;
4. acknowledged my uncertainty and/or my limited or faulty knowledge on a subject;
5. asked for help, advice, or information.

I’m not even talking about the places where I’ve pointed out the limitations of science or human knowledge generally. And I’m not doing the tour of places where other rabid atheists/ skeptics/ science lovers have admitted that they’re wrong. Maybe I’ll do that in another post someday. For now, I’m sticking to my own personal mistakes, ignorance, and limitations.

This is going to be fun. For me, anyway. I hope y’all enjoy it as well.

“Again, I don’t know why I’m subjecting myself to this public humiliation, as my track record on these pop-culture predictions has consistently sucked.”
The “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” Prediction Contest, or, The Most Trivial Thing On This Blog To Date, And That’s Saying Something

“Important disclaimer: I’m a smart observant person, but I’m not a legal expert. If any legal experts see any flaws in my understanding of the law, please point them out.”
Hate Crime Laws, and the Difference Between Speech and Evidence

“I’m literally and physically pulling those numbers out of my ass as we speak, by the way.”
So Christopher Hitchens Walks Into A Bar…

“I think that’s a very good point, Jon. But now I’m wondering. It seems to me (and do correct me if I’m wrong, you obviously know a lot more about this than I do)…”
Our No. 1 Crime Fighter: Alberto Gonzales, and What Government Is For – comment

“I am passionate about science, especially for someone who’s only studied it as a humanities major and an educated layperson.”
The Slog Through the Swamp: What Science Is, And Why It Works, And Why I Care

“Our brains are not very good at grasping statistics and probability. (That includes mine — I can’t get more than ten pages into a ‘Statistics and Probability For Dummies’ book without my puny earthling brain exploding.)”
A Lattice of Coincidence: Metaphysics, the Paranormal, and My Answer to Layne

“Okay, this is freaking me out now. I based my metaphysical beliefs for YEARS on the idea that this pattern was ridiculously unlikely. Sheesh. (BTW, if there are any mathematicians or statisticians reading this who are screaming with frustration at my math, please feel free to correct me.)”
Ditto. This one counts for double — I pointed out a mistake I’d made in the recent past, AND asked for help on a subject on which I knew my understanding to be faulty. Yay, me!

“But… oh, just go read the piece on the SmackDog blog. He says it better than I can.”
Credibility and the Duke Rape Case Fiasco

“I’m sorry that I misunderstood you about being angry because people were making snarky jokes about your faith. It seemed to me like that was part of what you were saying. My bad.”
Defending the Blasphemy Challenge: A Reply – comment
(Also in that comment: “Plenty of smart people have had some stupid ideas. I’m one of them.”)

“I’ve actually read a fair amount of the Bible. I was a religion major, for goodness’ sake. But until recently, I somehow managed to miss this bit.”
Greta Christina Takes the Blasphemy Challenge

“I think I need to clarify my point about faith. I thought I’d made it clearly in my original post, Well, There’s Your Problem; but if Laura — who does, in fact, try hard to understand what I’m saying and give me the benefit of the doubt — didn’t understand it, than I obviously said it wrong. For which I apologize.”
Answering Laura: Atheists on Religion, Believers on Religion, Part 3

“In a perfectly non-sexist society, it’s possible that we might still have more male engineers than female, more female teachers than male. I don’t know. I don’t think any of us knows.”
Brain, Brain, What Is Brain? or, Is Gender Hard-Wired?

“…since my own definitions have been shifting around lately, I thought I’d gas on about it here.”
Atheist or Agnostic?

“Lately, however, it’s been becoming increasingly clear that ‘100% sure that there is no God’ isn’t the only definition of ‘atheist.'”
Ditto. Actually, the whole point of <A HREF="this post was to call attention to the fact that I was changing my mind about an important topic.

“There are some very commonly-held myths about sex offenders that turn out to be total bullshit — myths that I believed myself until I read this piece.”
Please Think of the Children: Sex Offender Hysteria

“When you don’t believe in God, the question ‘What purpose do we serve?’ is as elusive as ‘What caused us to be here?’ is solid. It isn’t simply mysterious. It’s unanswerable.”
Why Are We Here? One Agnostic’s Half-Baked Philosophy. (This one may seem like cheating, since I was using the abstract “you” to mean “all naturalists” as well as just “me.” But I was mostly talking about my own naturalist philosophy here, not other people’s; and besides, it was such a big important a topic for me to admit my limitations on that I couldn’t resist.)

“…ripped fishnets and miniskirts and skimpy tops don’t make me look like a punk rock waif any more. They make me look like an aging tramp. And I don’t know why that is — or whether I’m okay with it.”
The Aging Slut

“I want to dress in a way that reclaims my sexual power. But I want to do it in a way that doesn’t make me look, or feel, pathetic and desperate. And I’m not sure how to do that. Any thoughts?”
Ditto. In fact, this entire post is about how I don’t know the answer to an important question and am struggling with it.

“Quick caveat/tangent — I may not be being fair. I haven’t been reading a lot of contemporary literary fiction lately, so maybe I’ve just been unlucky.”
The Death of the Novel? – comment

“Jon, you make a good point. I think the abuse of power issue is more important than I’d originally made it out to be.”
Sixteen Candles: The Rep. Foley Scandal – comment

“I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and am now thinking that, on the specific topic of North Korea, I may well have over-reacted.”
North Korea, and Reason 8,624 that the War on Iraq was a Bad Idea – comment

“I have (a theory) about my ‘bis tend to end up with women’ observation… But I’m very aware of the fact that my circle of close friends does not constitute a statistically accurate sampling — so I want to expand the sampling to my circle of people who read my blog. Much more accurate…”
If You Believe in Bisexuals, Clap Your Hands: My Letter to Dan Savage

“I am now convinced that I was mistaken about LOTR’s moral simplicity and political irrelevance. Again, I haven’t read it for 20 years, and even then I didn’t read it very carefully after the first 100 pages or so, since I wasn’t enjoying it. Mea culpa.”
Why I Like “Harry Potter” Better than “Lord of the Rings” – comment

We hope you have enjoyed this tour of Greta’s Willingness To Admit That She’s Wrong And Doesn’t Know Everything. We now return you to our regularly scheduled program of opinionated ranting.

Mistakes Were Made: The Arrogance and Fun of Admitting You’re Wrong
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One thought on “Mistakes Were Made: The Arrogance and Fun of Admitting You’re Wrong

  1. 1

    Thanks for posting this. LOL.
    I love changing my mind. It’s too bad when others occasionally find my so-called flakiness annoying or worthy of ridicule, but hey, that’s not my problem.
    And, while I hate feeling confused, god, I hope I don’t ever think I know everything about anything. Ewwww.
    But enough about me. You rawk!

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